When you realize there are fraudulent charges on your credit card, it’s pretty simple to solve.
After you file a dispute with your lender, most complaints are approved in short order. The company will also assign you a new card number.
If your debit card is hacked, it’s worse because the cash immediately comes out of your account. But still, dispute process is pretty simple and easy to resolve.
Not so for the Eppicard, a benefits card used by the state of New Jersey and 21 other states to distribute public assistance benefits, child support and other payments.
Bamboozled has been hearing consumer complaints about Eppicard since 2009. Even though the card is supposed to have the same kinds of protections as a traditional debit card, consumers have compared resolving fake charges after a card is compromised to running on a hamster wheel.
The complaints came to us from Florida and Illinois, Wisconsin and Connecticut, Georgia and Texas, and others. Among their complaints: Eppicard loses fraud paperwork multiple times. Eppicard has wrongly and repeatedly told consumers they need to pursue the phony charges with the merchant. When provisional credits — now called provisional “loans” — are credited to accounts, they’re soon reversed and the charges were reinstated, even when the charges were made in foreign countries or in states far from the cardholder.
In the eight years since we first wrote about Eppicard, we’ve received scores of complaints every year from cardholders all over the country. But because we try to focus on New Jersey, we haven’t readdressed the issues.
Sharee White-Moore of Pine Hill is a foster parent, and she receives state benefits on an Eppicard.
When she tried to pay a day care bill on Dec. 19, she said her card was declined. She logged into her account and said she saw the balance was only $1.23.
More than $950 was gone.
“I instantly became sick to my stomach,” White-Moore said.
All the charges seemed to come from several retailers in Atlantic City, more than 45 minutes away from White-Moore’s Pine Hill home. But strangely, each charge had the letters “MDS” before the retailer name.
“MDS” is short for Mastercard Debit Switch, indicating the merchant code is different from the country code of the cardholder.
So more than likely, the charges were placed via telephone or online by someone in another country.
White-Moore said it took two calls before Eppicard representatives could locate the account. The card was cancelled and a new card would be mailed along with required fraud paperwork, she said the rep told her, adding that White-Moore would be eligible for a “provisional loan” until the investigation was completed.
Because two of the nine charges were “pending,” the rep said White-Moore would need to call back to dispute those.
She did that the next day, she said, then she waited.
By Dec. 24, the fraud paperwork still hadn’t arrived.
She called Eppicard again, and was told the paperwork would be resent.
It arrived on Dec. 28.
“It was six business days after I called and the letter stated I had 10 business days to return the paperwork to be eligible for a ‘provisional loan’ during the investigation,” she said.
She said she mailed the forms back, she called for a status update on Jan. 4.
“I spoke to a representative who informed me they did not receive my paperwork yet and today was the last day to be eligible for a provisional loan,” she said.
A second rep told her the same thing, she said.
Worried about not being able to get the “provisional loan,” White-Moore asked if she could fax or email the paperwork.
No, the reps said. She would have to wait.
White-Moore called the company on Jan. 6, and still, the paperwork hadn’t arrived.
She persisted, and a supervisor gave her a fax number to send the forms, which White-Moore said she did right away.
Yet on Jan. 8, when she called for an update, a rep said the paperwork had not been received.
She spoke to another supervisor.
“Per the supervisor, the paperwork is not here yet, she does not work in the mailroom all she could say was it takes 24 to 48 hours for the paperwork to be scanned in,” White-Moore said. “I then stated 48 hours will be tomorrow, so when I call back tomorrow my paperwork should be received? She mumbled if that will make it 48 hours, then yes.”
That’s when White-Moore started Googling, finding Bamboozled’s previous stories about Eppicard.
“I can’t believe they do this and deny fraud claims,” she said. “That is absolutely horrible, and I can’t allow this to happen to me.”
SOME SERVICE, PLEASE?
We’re not sure how many people in New Jersey receive benefits on the Eppicard.
All individuals served through the Division of Family Development’s programs receive benefits through the system, said Nicole Brossoie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services (DHS).
This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), child support, child care subsidies, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance.
Child support alone has about 400,000 cases. (You can see enrollment for the rest of the programs here.)
For 2017, DHS paid more than $17.6 million for Eppicard services.
Other state departments and agencies use Eppicard, but we can’t report which ones, because the Treasury Department temporarily doesn’t have a spokesperson.
We couldn’t learn the total price tag the state pays to Conduent, either.
The Eppicard service is managed by Conduent Inc. of Florham Park, a company created in 2017 as a spinoff from Xerox. Xerox’s old business services company, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), used to manage the cards.
We asked Conduent to review White-Moore’s complaint.
A day later, White-Moore reported the money was back in her account. She hadn’t received contact from the company, but said she saw the money when she checked her balance.
Conduent wouldn’t discuss her case citing privacy issues (even though we offered written permission from White-Moore), nor would it say how many fraud complaints it receives every year, how many of those complaints are approved or denied and how it investigates reports of fraud.
Conduent did thank Bamboozled for the inquiry “on behalf of one of our valued cardholders.”
“We will be communicating directly with the cardholder to ensure her matter is resolved in accordance with the findings of our investigation,” spokesman Sean Collins said.
To date, White-Moore hasn’t heard a word, and she’s concerned about what happens if there’s another case of fraud.
“It’s hurtful that a company is allowed to treat individuals who have been victims to fraud cases this way,” she said.
We’ve filed an Open Public Records Act request with the Treasury Department to see just how much New Jersey pays Conduent every year.
We’ve got a right to see our tax dollars hard at work.